Being told i have cancer.

Last Tuesday, the 23rd September at about 11.30 i was told i had cancer, to be precise squamous oropharyngeal cancer, a cancer at the base of my tongue. As i am rapidly learning this has implications regarding my treatment and in 2 days time i will have my first dose of chemotherapy. The doctor after telling me i had cancer then told me it was treatable, what they envisaged the course of treatment to be and the horrendous list of possible side effects, too many to take in soon after the shock of being told. The outstanding one at the time was that i’d lose my hair, i currently have long silver hair.

I am 57 years old have been a teacher since 1980 and have worked for the last 16 years at a school called Purbeck View School in Swanage. It is a school for young people with autism. I am married to a beautiful woman called Kate and we have a blended family of 4 children, Jaike, Fay, Grace and Ruby. One thing that came to me in that initial consultation was how much something like this affects those close to you. Whilst i know i will be experiencing many unpleasant things over the coming months in some ways it is harder for others, especially Kate. She was in floods of tears, she had been thinking positively and trying to convince herself that the medical folk would just tell us it was nothing. Since my first visit to the GP just over 2 months ago i had felt that it was cancer, of course i hoped it wasn’t, and whilst shocking for me to be told it seemed worse for Kate. I hope she gets the support she needs.

The medical folk at the hospital have been brilliant: caring, thoughtful, professional and there’s not been too much waiting time. As might be expected i’ve had a number of procedures Last Friday it was an MRI scan, a very noisy and claustrophobic experience in the large white very modern looking doughnut thing. Just before they started the nurse asked if i wanted to listen to music and said a number of genres and eras were available, i chose the 70’s and slid into the machine listening to TRex and revolting children. Most of the music is then actually drowned out by all strange and loud noises made by the machine. During one of the brief lulls i heard Freddie singing ” is this the real life or is this just fantasy”, the weirdness begins!

Family and friends have been great and i’ve been so moved by many instances of  what they’ve said and written to me. My sister in law Jo and husband Den gave me a t shirt with LETS. GET. WEIRD. on it, hence the tag line. My uncle Barry from New York wants me to go over there and at least get a second opinion at a hospital near him where they treated Michael Douglas for mouth or throat cancer, i’m sure i remember reading that he thought his cancer was caused by cunnilingus. I’m very moved by his wanting to do this, not the cunnilingus of course, but it causes conflict for me. The NHS is one of our country’s best and most treasured institutions, as i’ve already written i think that they have been brilliant and would i be somehow undermining them by having this second opinion? Any of you who read this please do not vote tory next year, they will privatise it even more and it will get worse for most of us.

On that fateful day last Tuesday (although the fates should not be thought of in just negative terms) i was weighed by my designated nurse, as i was sitting on the weighing chair she said “that’s a good weight”. I immediately said “but i’m a fat bastard”. She told me this was good, that i should try and put more weight on as i will be losing a lot in the next few months. This was at least some good news to me, i love cooking, eating and drinking red wine and i’d just been given licence to do lots of it (she might not include the red wine). I now lie in my bed writing this with the laptop on my distended belly. Last week i listened to a French chef saying how the hardest thing in his life was losing his sense of taste for 6 to 9 months when he was being treated for cancer.

The day after being told i resolved to try and not let the cancer define me for the next stage of my life even though of course it has already drastically altered my and my family’s life. A common theme from others is to be positive and thus far i am, although there have been those moments when i feel an incredible sadness that is very hard to describe. There will be many more, but i plan to wear many hats, the occasional ridiculous wig and start growing mushrooms ( and not psyllocibin as some have suggested), although of course they might add to the weirdness.

Adieu for now, Duncan.

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